WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ahead of the Senate’s final vote to confirm Pete Buttigieg as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the incoming Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, spoke on the Senate floor in support of his nomination. In her speech, Cantwell highlighted the critical need to invest in transportation infrastructure in Washington state and across the entire nation—an issue made only more challenging as transportation revenues have plummeted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. After her remarks, the Senate confirmed Buttigieg by a bipartisan vote of 86-13.
“We all know the nominee as Mayor Pete, a man who basically came onto the national stage as a Midwest mayor, who had lots of enthusiasm for making investments in America’s future,” Cantwell said, emphasizing the need for new leadership and a new vision for transportation at DOT. “He’s a young, energetic mayor who is going to help us usher in a new era of transportation… We need someone at the Department of Transportation who is enthusiastic about taking on these challenges.”
Cantwell highlighted the importance of transportation infrastructure to our national economy and the cascading effects that systemic under-investment in transportation infrastructure can have—and has had—across the country.
“We’ve under-invested in our infrastructure for decades. In the past 10 years alone, we’ve underfunded our infrastructure needs by $1.5 trillion. The American Society of Engineers estimates that we need to invest $5.6 trillion in our infrastructure over the next two decades, or the United States stand to lose about $10.3 trillion in GDP.”
She continued, “We should start immediately by talking about infrastructure packages and working on the transportation infrastructure plan for the 21st century, because it’s clear we have opportunities this year… Communities everywhere are demanding that we help work on these important issues for their communities.”
“If the transportation infrastructure doesn’t work, goods and services don’t get through your ports, they don’t get to their destination, and businesses choose other vehicles or other avenues for the products to be delivered. America needs to be competitive. And the American public also knows that poor infrastructure and the problems that they see in their communities have to be addressed—whether that’s concrete crumbling off of bridges, delayed trains, buses, congestion, railroads, or any of the many issues.”
Cantwell also noted that steep revenue declines for public transportation and state and local governments as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have only added to the challenges already facing our nation’s infrastructure. “State departments of transportation estimate $50 billion in lost revenues over the next five years, airports have lost of $23 billion because of people no longer flying, transit agencies [will] have lost an estimated $50 billion by the end of 2021,” she said.
Cantwell went on to discuss the transportation challenges facing Washington state, noting that, prior to the pandemic, Seattle commuters spent an average of 78 hours per year in traffic: “A recent study in my state estimated that Washingtonians lost more than $7. 4 billion each year in lost time and wasted fuel due to congestion, deteriorated roads, and safety problems,” Cantwell said. “As America starts to head back to the office, no one wants to spend time back in that world of congestion. And so we need to make critical investments.”
Cantwell also highlighted specific transportation projects in Washington state in dire need of funding, including the West Seattle Bridge: “People in Puget Sound know that we need to fix the West Seattle Bridge. They know in Southwest Washington that the Columbia River needs a new bridge across I-5. In Eastern Washington, they know that we need a North-South Corridor. And in Everett, they know that the trestle needs replacement if goods from Eastern Washington are going to get to the Port of Everett and out the door.”
Last month at Mr. Buttigieg’s nomination hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, Senator Cantwell secured key commitments from Buttigieg to invest in transportation infrastructure and questioned him about a number of transportation priorities in the Pacific Northwest.